With eight games to go, Mike Davis thinks he knows what it's going to take for Indiana to be in the hunt for a conference championship.
With five of his team's final eight regular season games away from Assembly Hall, the Hoosier head coach says he believes Indiana must win three road contests and then win its three remaining home games to have a chance at its first league title since 2002.
"We want to make a run, and we know we have to win some games on the road to do that," Davis said.
Indiana (13-6/5-3) will get a chance to capture one of those elusive road victories on Wednesday, when it travels to Madison, Wis., to face a Wisconsin (15-7/5-4) team that has dropped five out of six. That includes a 15-point loss at home to Illinois last week, just the second conference home loss for the Badgers in 37 games with Bo Ryan on the sidelines.
Indiana hasn't won in Madison since 1998, but nearly sprung the upset a year ago. The Hoosiers jumped out to an early lead and appeared in control, but Wisconsin mounted a big second-half comeback and capped a 62-60 victory with an Alando Tucker tip-in at the buzzer.
While that was a heartbreaking loss away from Assembly Hall, Indiana's efforts away from home this season have been more of the disheartening variety. Indiana has lost its first three Big Ten road games by 15.3 points/game, and hasn't led in the final 28 minutes of any of those contests.
While those results might make winning three out of five away from home seem like wishful thinking, Davis believes that his team made some strides in the last week and that his team's mindset is right for a late-season flurry.
One of the reasons for optimism was the play of Earl Calloway on Saturday against Connecticut. After not playing against Northwestern and sitting for the first half against the top-ranked Huskies, the junior point guard contributed eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 11 second-half minutes while spearheading Indiana's comeback.
"I loved what I saw in Earl Saturday," Davis said. "That's what we expected out of him, and hopefully he can give us that. When we play well, we play fast. Earl came in and did a great job. I'm happy for him, and hopefully he can continue to play that way."
It appears Calloway will see plenty of action on Wednesday in Madison, as Indiana tries to not only get its first road win of the Big Ten season, but also to play the sort of up-tempo style that it did early in the year. After going four straight games scoring less than 70 points, IU scored 72 in its win over Northwestern last week and then hit the 80-point mark Saturday against UConn.
Another reason for Davis's optimism is the fact that two of IU's three losses have come at Michigan State and Iowa, a pair of teams that have perfect home records this season. While IU's loss at Minnesota was a tough one to swallow, surprising weekend losses for Illinois (at home vs. Penn State) and Wisconsin (at Purdue) have suddenly re-shuffled the league standings while also making the Hoosiers' setback in Minneapolis not quite as egregious.
"We're one game out of first and people think we're in last," said Davis.
Indiana certainly isn't in last, and the Hoosiers will have a golden opportunity to take a huge step toward the top of the league standings on Wednesday in Madison. Davis, for one, is excited about what could be in store for his team.
"Our guys now, hopefully their minds are headed in the right direction," said Davis. "No matter what is said, we're still one game out of first and they can feel us making this run to try to win the championship.
"This is a really, really, really exciting stretch for us. We're one game out of first place and we have an opportunity to finish strong."
What's It Going To Take?
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